What is the condition of "sensitive teeth"?
When the tooth’s hard enamel wears down or gums recede, tiny microscopic tubes located in the layer of tooth below the enamel are exposed. Tooth sensitivity is caused by the stimulation of cells within these tubes, causing a short, sharp pain when the area is exposed to hot or cold temperatures through food and beverages — or even by the air.
Another cause of tooth sensitivity is cracks in the tooth’s enamel surface. Extreme temperature changes cause teeth to expand and contract. Over time, microscopic cracks may develop, allowing hot or cold sensations to seep through to the nerves beneath the tooth enamel.
What you can do
Change your brand of toothpaste
Some toothpastes increase tooth sensitivity, including whitening toothpastes that lighten or remove stains from enamel, and tartar-control toothpastes containing sodium pyrophosphate. There are toothpastes specially made for people with sensitive teeth. Be aware that these products typically must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before you notice any therapeutic benefits. (You may see benefits more quickly if you massage the special toothpaste onto your gums with your finger after brushing your teeth with it.)
Take it easy on your teeth
Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes and brushing your teeth too vigorously, which can wear down the tooth’s root surface and expose sensitive spots. Take a good look at your toothbrush. If the bristles are flattened or pointing in multiple directions, you’re putting too much pressure on your teeth.
Skip the marinara sauce
Some foods or drinks can aggravate sensitive teeth. Avoid or limit acidic items (for example, food or drink with a high concentration of tomatoes, oranges or lemons) and sodas.
When to see a dentist
If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days and reacts to both hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to get an evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. Because pain symptoms can be similar, some people might think that a tooth is sensitive when they actually have a cavity or abscess that’s not yet visible. Be sure to tell the dentist when the pain started and if there is anything (such as the application of a warm compress) that reduces or eliminates the pain.
If you are diagnosed with sensitive teeth, your dentist can prescribe one of a variety of treatment options, including both in-office treatments (applying a desensitizing agent or a protective coating to the teeth) and take-home products for personal use. If your tooth sensitivity is severe and persistent or it cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend root canal treatment.